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The Father of Modern Metal

The creation of stainless steel took equal parts metallurgy and perseverance.

Sometime in 1882, a skinny, dark-haired, 11-year-old boy named Harry Brearley entered a steelworks for the first time. A shy kid—he…By Jonathan Waldman

Sometime in 1882, a skinny, dark-haired, 11-year-old boy named Harry Brearley entered a steelworks for the first time. A shy kid—he was scared of the dark, and a picky eater—he was also curious, and the industrial revolution in Sheffield, England, offered much in the way of amusements. He enjoyed wandering around town—he later called himself a Sheffield Street Arab—watching road builders, bricklayers, painters, coal deliverers, butchers, and grinders. He was drawn especially to workshops; if he couldn’t see in a shop window, he would knock on the door and offer to run an errand for the privilege of watching whatever work was going on inside. Factories were even more appealing, and he had learned to gain access by delivering, or pretending to deliver, lunch or dinner to an employee. Once inside, he must have reveled, for not until the day’s end did he emerge, all grimy and gray but for his blue eyes. Inside the steelworks, the action compelled him so much that he spent hours sitting inconspicuously on great piles of coal, breathing through his mouth, watching brawny men shoveling fuel into furnaces, hammering white-hot ingots of iron.

There was one operation in particular that young Harry liked: a toughness test performed by the blacksmith. After melting and pouring a molten mixture from a crucible, the blacksmith would cast a bar or two of that alloy, and after it cooled, he would cut notches in the ends of those bars. Then he’d put the bars in a vise, and hammer away at them.

The effort required to break the metal bars, as interpreted through the blacksmith’s muscles, could vary by an order of magnitude, but the result of the test was expressed qualitatively. The metal was pronounced on the spot either rotten or darned good stuff. The latter was simply called D.G.S. The aim of the men at that steelworks, and every other, was to produce D.G.S., and Harry took that to heart.

In this way, young Harry became familiar with steelmaking long before he formally taught himself as much as there was to know about the practice. It was the beginning of a life devoted to steel, without the distractions of hobbies, vacations, or church. It was the origin of a career in which Brearley wrote eight books on metals, five of which contain the word steel in the title; in which he could argue about steelmaking—but not politics—all night; and in which the love and devotion he bestowed upon inanimate metals exceeded that which he bestowed upon his parents or wife or son. Steel was Harry’s true love. It would lead, eventually, to the discovery of stainless steel.

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Harry Brearley was born on Feb. 18, 1871, and grew up poor, in a small, cramped house on Marcus Street, in Ramsden’s Yard, on a hill in Sheffield. The city was the world capital of steelmaking; by 1850 Sheffield steelmakers produced half of all the steel in Europe, and 90 percent of the steel in England. By 1860, no fewer than 178 edge tool and saw makers were registered in Sheffield. In the first half of the 19th century, as Sheffield rose to prominence, the population of the city grew fivefold, and its filth grew proportionally. A saying at the time, that “where there’s muck there’s money,” legitimized the grime, reek, and dust of industrial Sheffield, but Harry recognized later that it was a misfortune to be from there, for nobody had much ambition.

The house Harry grew up in was sparse and tight; the living room measured 10 feet square, with two bedrooms above it. The kids ate standing up because there were not enough chairs. There were no books, or pictures, or toys; there was no space for a desk. The Brearleys were heartily poor but not starving, yet they weren’t far from the breadline. Harry wore jackets that had been made from his father’s trousers. He helped deliver coal in a wheelbarrow in return for sweets. After school, he bundled sticks, earning a penny for a dozen bundles. He used to walk along nearby railroad tracks, collect lumps of coal that had fallen from passing trains, and bring them home to his mother. He once borrowed a book from the library, and copied it—the whole thing—by hand, because he couldn’t afford to buy a copy. In 1882 his parents moved down to Carlisle Street, beside the railroad tracks—a place said to be separated from hell by only a sheet of tissue paper. It was filthier, dustier, smokier. But Harry loved it, on account of the increased color and variety. There was a pigsty and stables to poke around in, and more adult conversation to pick up. On account of his curiosity, he was regularly late for school; he found too much to look at on the way. He got away from school, at age 11, with his “brains unshackled and his curiosity undimmed,” and was then free to work, according to the law, in nonfactory conditions.

He was so overwhelmed by the amount of glassware that he figured it was a place people came to drink.

He was unhappy in his first jobs. He spent three days in Marsland’s Clog Shop, blacking boots and carrying things from 8 in the morning until 11 o’clock at night, and hated it. He spent a week in Moorwood’s Iron Foundry, painting black varnish onto kitchen stoves, before being discharged on account of labor regulations. He spent six weeks helping a doctor, but was disheartened by the subservience the man required. Finally his father took him to work in the Thomas Firth & Sons steelmaking factory, where he worked as a nipper, or cellar boy, moving clay stands and covers wherever needed in the dark, hot ashes of the cellar, and skimming the slag from the steel. Everybody, including his father, thought he was too small and weak for the job, but he spent three months at Firth’s, working long, sweaty days, before he was once again discharged on account of violating labor regulations.

He was then hired as a bottle washer by James Taylor, the chief chemist in a laboratory of the same steelmakers. Harry hadn’t ever heard the word laboratory before and, when he first showed up, was so overwhelmed by the amount of glassware that he figured it was a place people came to drink. At first, he found the work tedious, but his mother encouraged him to stay there, as it was undoubtedly better than the melting furnaces in the steelworks. Harry was only 12; he would become Taylor’s protégé.

Taylor started his training by teaching Harry arithmetic (Harry had to buy the book himself) and then, a couple of years later, algebra (Taylor bought him the book, a gift Harry brought home to show off, and never forgot). Taylor bought Harry a set of drawing instruments too. Taylor was not social, not a drinker, not a smoker, not a swearer. He didn’t even speak in the Sheffield dialect. But he was thrifty and handy, and the set of skills he displayed was formative for Harry. Under Taylor, Harry learned to join wood, paint, solder, plumb, blow glass, bind books, and work with metal. While his friends were out playing, Harry was learning new skills. This knowledge later inspired Harry to make his own furniture, stitch his own sandals, and try writing. His first attempt, an article for Windsor magazine, described the nature of various inks in creating inkblots, of which he made a few hundred; the next was titled “Bubble-Blowing as a Physical Exercise.” Some hobbies. He also attended night school, on Taylor’s urging, studying math and physics a few nights a week.

By the time he was 20, he was proficient in most crafts, even though, technically, he was a bottle washer. The lab suited him; at work, one assistant sometimes sang opera or recited poems, while Taylor regularly discussed food, economics, education, politics, and social welfare. In this context, Harry grew comfortable in the presence of educated people. Despite, or perhaps because of, Harry’s reverence for his boss—which bordered on idolatry—Harry’s mother by then was encouraging him to find a job in a factory, one with a better salary, and more of a future.


His mother died the next year. Brearley moved in with his older brother Arthur. That same year, Taylor left for work in Australia, and Brearley was promoted to lab assistant. Contemplating life ahead, he had a sudden conversion, and decided more schooling was not for him. He recognized that he had no tolerance for things he didn’t want to do. He was hardening, like steel.

He also fell in love, and began courting his future wife, Helen, chatting her up at Sunday school. At age 24, they married; he’d been promoted to an analytical chemist at the lab, and was earning two pounds a week. Together they had a total savings of five pounds. They lived on bread, onions, and apple pie, in a simple cottage south of Sheffield, but he never mentions it, or his wife, in his autobiography. He barely mentions his only son, Leo Taylor Brearley (named after James Taylor), who was born two years later. But he mentions love: “I was in love with my work, and could think of few better things than the privilege of living to continue it.” He enjoyed it so much that he said it made him feel drunk.

So he drank: He spent the next six years reading everything he could about metallurgy, starting with periodicals and journals about chemistry, barely stopping for a lunch of bread and dates. Next he read about manganese, and every process by which it could be detected in steel. Then he read about every other steelmaking element; all the while he kept index cards detailing what he had learned from each book. He developed his knowledge carefully, procedurally, accumulating as much as he could. Lab protocol stipulated that anyone who figured out how to save time could enjoy his savings as he wanted. Brearley got his day’s work done in a couple of hours, and spent the rest of the day reading and experimenting.

Brearley saw himself as steel’s savior, its priest.

In his late 20s, Brearley started writing technical papers on the analytical chemistry of metals for publications such as Chemical News. Taylor wrote from Australia, offering him a job assaying gold and silver. He turned it down. He was developing a reputation as a steel problem solver, and enjoying it.

On Saturdays, for fun, he met up with Fred Ibbotson, a professor of metallurgical chemistry. Ibbotson would give him samples of metals, and challenge him to determine, in 10, 20, or 30 minutes, how much of a given element they contained. What happened to blowing bubbles? On Sundays, he hung out at the lab with his brother Arthur (who’d walked 3 miles to get there), and together they analyzed enough steel to get proficient at it. This was the beginning of a lifelong working relationship with his brother. Twenty years later, the two co-wrote Ingots and Ingot Moulds; Brearley thought it was his best work. Two years after that, when he won the Bessemer Gold Medal, the highest award conferred by the Iron and Steel Institute, for outstanding contributions to the steel industry, he credited his brother generously. His sixth book, Steel-Makers and Knotted String, was dedicated to Arthur, as “playmate schoolmate and workmate.” In it, he called his brother “a better workman, a better observer and a more resourceful experimentalist than I.”

In 1901, at age 30, Brearley was hired at Kayser, Ellison & Co. as a chemist to work on high-speed tool steels, which had been discovered three years earlier by a consultant for Bethlehem Steel named Frederick Winslow Taylor. Sidetracked from production problems, Taylor had begun looking at steels used to plane and bore ship plates and cannons. Ideal forging temperatures were still measured by color, and he found that steel, heated to just below dull cherry, came out strong, but the same steel, heated above that point, became weak. To his surprise, he found that if he heated it further—to salmon and yellow—the steel got superhard; so hard that machinists could run their cutting tools two or three times as fast as before, until the blades glowed red, at 1,000 degrees Celsius. It was so dramatic that at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, Taylor set up a giant lathe in the dark, so that the glowing-red cutting edge, as well as the stream of blue chips, was visible.

In 1902 Brearley co-wrote his first book with Professor Ibbotson. It was called The Analysis of Steel-Works Materials. That same year, he teamed up with his old operatic lab mate, Colin Moorwood, and started a company, the Amalgams Co. He’d developed a unique claylike material, and they profited selling it to a local business. He and Moorwood spent every evening and weekend toying with new materials, and made a mess of one room in his house. Within a year, he’d written his second book, The Analytical Chemistry of Uranium.

Steel business was good, and in September 1903, Brearley’s old employer, Thomas Firth & Sons, bought a steelmaking plant in Riga—Russia’s second largest port, on the Baltic Sea—in order to produce steel for the massive Russian market without having to pay export tariffs. On Moorwood’s recommendation, Brearley was hired to be the chemist. Arthur Brearley would join them too, probably on his brother’s recommendation. Moorwood would be the general manager. Together Brearley and Moorwood traveled there in January 1904, in the dead of winter.

His style was casual. Men swapped roles, worked as a team, and were free to divulge their opinions. There was no organizational hierarchy. No mechanical precision. No engineered plan drawn up on paper. Moorwood OK’ed the arrangement, and agreed not to interfere. Under such management, Brearley found that he preferred novice steelmakers. They weren’t biased by previous experience, or hamstrung by any preconceived notions. In time, he credited the Latvian peasants with skills rivaling those of his Sheffield pals.

Within the year, he was promoted to technical director, and put in charge of building a crucible furnace. He ordered some plans. The plans were wrong, but his furnace was right. He was also put in charge of selling high-speed tool steel. He surprised many customers by stripping from his business attire and working in the furnace, just like any of the other men, to demonstrate his product. Who was this Brearley: a technical director or a technician? With his long, boyish face, and big, dark, owlish eyes, Brearley still looked like a teenager. He was cleanshaven, with short black hair parted down the middle. He wore wire-frame spectacles. His ears were not lacking in prominence. By now, his adult persona had emerged: He was deliberate and devoted; confident but not dictatorial, and definitely not greedy. He was earning plenty of money, but he remained thrifty, never yearning for a big house or fancy cars or fine food. He was certainly no public speaker, and had no stomach for politics. He wasn’t much of a salesman, as he had no ornamental graces, and few cultural graces. But he was good at his work.

The Russian Revolution came in 1905. The political and cultural revolt didn’t bother Brearley so much; in fact, he wasn’t especially repelled by socialism. (He’d joined the International Labor Party in England.) But the strikes made it impossible to produce steel, and this bothered him. The furnaces had to run constantly, or not at all. He couldn’t start and stop them as the vagaries of politics demanded.

An impromptu public meeting was held on a vacant floor of the factory. Two thousand men showed up. Before the meeting started, revolver cartridges were distributed. Not long after, the foreman blacksmith was murdered outside his apartment. A half dozen factory workers were arrested and imprisoned. The state of affairs terrified many; three engineers fled the country. So did Moorwood. Brearley took his spot as general manager and kept it for three years. He sat in Moorwood’s chair, at Moorwood’s big horseshoe-shaped desk, in Moorwood’s clothes, smoking Moorwood’s cigars. It was the most extravagant thing he ever did.

With Brearley in charge, new equipment was in order. He bought a microscope, a galvanometer, and a thermocouple, and spent weeks toying with the latter instrument in a cellar. The cellar became the Friday-evening meeting-place for people who wanted to talk about steel rather than the revolution. During a strike, with nothing better to do, the cellar crew made a temperature recorder out of an old clock and a biscuit tin. They collected pieces of steel that had been hardened at different temperatures, fractured them, and compared them. They savored the mysterious specimens. They sought bewilderment for the sake of discussion. They argued into the night. Cut off from England and its supplies during the long winters, they were forced to adapt, innovate, or use substitute materials. In this way, they gained experience, and what remained in Brearley of any old steelmaking dogma faded away.

When Brearley returned to England in 1907, he was offered a position running the Brown-Firth Research Laboratories, a new joint operation run by John Brown & Company, which built battleships, and Firth’s, which was working on armor plates. Notably, as research director, Brearley was given great freedom; he and his employer agreed, before he took the job, that he could turn down any project that didn’t interest him. More importantly, on account of Brearley’s interest in Amalgams Co., they also agreed to split ownership of rights to any discoveries.


Brearley would soon be a dinosaur. But, as a quasi-free-agent analyst at Firth’s, his knowledge surpassed that of many other analysts. Other steelmakers described good steel as having “body,” attributing it to the type of clay in the crucible, or the source of the water, or the mine from which the ore came. Good steel was therefore mysterious, requiring interpretation. (One Sheffield crucible steel recipe called for the juice of four white onions.) When one steelworker, Henry Seebohm, suggested introducing colored labels to denote the carbon content of steels, Sheffield steelmakers objected. It was too scientific; it eliminated them as translators of intrigue.

Brearley knew qualitative descriptions were bogus misapprehensions, leftover ignorance from an age when science offered little insight. He staked out his turf, relying on skill and science—but not to the exclusion of experience. He ordered two of the earliest Izod notched-bar impact testing machines, each of which, with a calibrated pendulum, quantified the blacksmith’s biceps. (The machines are still used today.) He didn’t talk about body. He talked about Krupp-Kanheit, the result of cooling a nickel-chromium alloy too slowly, leaving it liable to fracture with a brittle, crystalline face.

Brearley saw himself as steel’s savior, its priest. He valued depth over breadth. He examined details, concerning himself with quality. But he missed the big picture, and at Firth, had the wrong priorities. Firth cared about volume. Scale. Margin. Market.

Brearley surprised many customers by stripping from his business attire and working in the furnace.

Brearley knew that, as far as physical properties of steel go, there’s no difference between an axle with 0.035 percent sulfur and one with 0.05 percent sulfur. But he missed the point: the difference, a manager told him, was £2 a ton. It was a lesson in politics as much as commerce; it didn’t matter if the steel was no better. It only mattered that people thought it was better, and were willing to pay more for it.

But the lesson didn’t stick; if anything, the business of modern steelmaking only hardened his resolve that it was all hogwash. “Time was,” he lamented later, “when a man made steel, decided what it was good for and told the customer how to make the best of it. Then, with time’s quickening step, he just made the steel; he engaged another man, who knew nothing about steelmaking, to analyse it, and say what it was good for. Then he engaged a second man, who knew all about hardening and tempering steel; then a third man who could neither make steel, nor analyse it, nor harden and temper it—but this last tested it, put his OK mark on it and passed it into service.” It was a disgrace.

In May 1912 Brearley traveled 130 miles south, to the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield to study the erosion of rifle barrels. He examined the problem, then wrote, on June 4, “It might be advisable to start a few erosion trials with varying low-carbon high-chromium steels at once ...” He spent most of the next year making crucible steels with chromium from 6 percent to 15 percent, but they didn’t stack up. Then, on Aug. 13, 1913, he tried the electric furnace, probably grudgingly. The first cast was no good. The second cast (number 1008), on August 20, turned out better. It was 12.8 percent chromium, 0.24 percent carbon, 0.44 percent manganese, and 0.2 percent silicon. He made a 3-inch square ingot and then rolled it into a one-and-a-half-inch-diameter bar. It rolled easily and machined well. From that, he made 12 gun barrels, which he sent to the factory.

The factory didn’t like them.

Brearley noticed that cut samples of the metal he’d sent had funny properties. He later recalled that, suddenly remembering a date to the theater with his wife, he left some samples in water overnight, and found them unstained the next morning. He studied the metal by polishing it, then etching it with a solution of nitric acid dissolved in alcohol, and looking at it under a microscope. It wouldn’t etch, or, rather, it etched very, very slowly. It reacted to vinegar and lemon juice the same way. He compared a polished sample of carbon steel to a polished sample of the chromium steel, and was amazed to find after 12 days that while the former had rusted, the latter remained shiny and bright.

Brearley wrote a report, and gave it to his boss. The new metal didn’t excite anybody, as far as ordnance was concerned. Brearley couldn’t let it go. He wrote another report for Brown’s, highlighting the noncorrosive nature of the metal. Ditto for Firth’s. He suggested that the metal might be advantageously used in cutlery, which, at the time, was made of carbon steel or sterling silver. (The former rusted, as he well knew; the latter was expensive and still tarnished, which really means that the copper, constituting 8 percent of the alloy, corroded.) The response was not even lukewarm. He didn’t let it go. By the end of 1913, he couldn’t stop talking about the utility of the new metal for cutlery. That he thought of cutlery first isn’t surprising. He’d spent enough time as a kid helping his mother with domestic chores that he knew the toil associated with cleaning and drying forks, knives, and spoons. Sheffield had also been the center of the cutlery industry since the 16th century. He sent samples off to two Sheffield cutlers, George Ibberson and James Dixon. A few months later, a report came back: The steel wouldn’t forge, grind, harden, or polish—and wouldn’t stay sharp. It was useless for cutlery. Ibberson wrote back: “In our opinion this steel is unsuited for Cutlery steel.” The cutlers called him “the inventor of knives that won’t cut.”

Still, Brearley wouldn’t drop it; he said the cutlers were wrong, and said so impolitely. He suggested to his bosses that they sell heat-treated knife blanks. They said no. He suggested a patent. They said no. He continued to make a nuisance of himself.

In June 1914 Brearley met a cutlery manager named Ernest Stuart, of the cutlers Robert F. Mosley, whose persistence rivaled his own. Brearley and Stuart had gone to school under the same headmaster. Stuart doubted that a rustless steel existed but recognized that such a thing would be worth bothering about. He bothered by testing a piece in vinegar, after which he reportedly said, “This steel stains less.” Stuart was the one who first called it stainless. He took a small sample. A week later, he returned with some cheese knives. He declared them rustless and stainless. But the steel was too hard, and had dulled all of his sharpening tools. He swore. He tried again, and the knives came back very hard, but very brittle. On the third try, Brearley was invited along to watch, even though he knew nothing about knife making. But he knew the temperature at which the steel hardened, and he helped make a dozen knives.

That Brearley is credited with discovering stainless steel is due mostly to luck; that he is credited with fathering it is due mostly to his resolve.

On Oct. 2, 1914, Brearley wrote another report for his bosses, when he realized that this new stainless steel could be useful in spindles, pistons, plungers, and valves—in addition to cutlery. If anything, it was this tenacity—this quasi-insanity—that set him apart from earlier discoverers.

Firth’s soon recognized the industrial value of Brearley’s steel for use in engine exhaust valves, and had begun marketing it as F.A.S.—Firth’s Aeroplane Steel. In 1914, the company produced 50 tons of the steel; over the next two years, Firth’s produced 1,000 tons more. Brearley bought 18 bars of it—125 pounds total, for 6 pounds, 15 shillings, 5 pence through Amalgams Co. He made knives and gave them to his friends. He gave them to Stuart’s friends. He instructed them to return the knives if, upon contact with any food, they stained or rusted. No knife was returned. Stuart knew he was looking at the future, and ordered, over a few weeks, seven more tons of the metal.

Success brought immediate animosity, because Brearley had one vision, and Firth’s had another. Firth’s omitted Brearley’s name. Firth advertised itself as the discoverer, inventor, and originator of stainless steel, in ads, posters, and labels on bars of steel. Brearley complained and got a bitter letter in response. Yet he insisted. He told his boss, Ethelbert Wolstenholme, that he’d given Firth’s a commercial opportunity, and that it had agreed to share any discoveries. But he’d also proven the company wrong and was to suffer for it. He was ignored, cast aside, told to deal with underlings. Annoyed and suspicious, he wrote a tactless letter to his boss. This led to a conference with Firth’s three directors, who told him plainly that he had no rights in the matter. A few days later, on Dec. 27, 1914, feeling wronged, more sad than angry—convinced that “workmen are often much wiser than their masters”—he resigned.

What’s more, Harry Brearley didn’t know it then, but the stuff he cast from the electric furnace at Firth’s on Aug. 20, 1913, was nothing new. At least 10 others had created it, or something like it, before; at least half a dozen had described it; and one guy even explained it, and explained it well. Others had patented it, and commercialized it. Before Brearley got around to it, at least two dozen scientists in England, France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and the United States were studying alloys of steel by varying the amounts of chromium, nickel, and carbon in it. Faraday had tried as much nearly a century earlier. It’s not like Brearley was exploring unknown territory. That he is credited with discovering stainless steel is due mostly to luck; that he is credited with fathering it is due mostly to his resolve.

The early alloyers of steel had a difficult time commercializing their discoveries. Robert Hadfield, who made the first real, commercially valuable alloy, called Hadfield’s manganese steel, had to wait a decade for it to take off. In his lab journal, on Sept. 7, 1882, he described the peculiar nature of his alloy: It was soft but tough, and tempering it made it softer and tougher still; and even though it was 80 percent iron, it wasn’t magnetic. It astonished him. He wrote, “Wonderfully tough, even with a 16lb hammer could hardly break it ... Really grand. Hurrah!!!” It was bad for tools. It was bad for horseshoes. It was bad for fire pokers and car wheels. Hadfield grumbled in a letter to his American agent, “The material is being tried for a considerable variety of purposes but the people are so slow on this side & inventors here have so many prejudices.” Finally, 10 years after he made it, it was found ideal for railroad tracks. It lasted almost 50 times longer than carbon steel, and became the standard for heavy-duty rails. With a new silicon steel Hadfield discovered in 1884, the situation was nearly the same. That time, he had to wait two decades before commercial viability became evident.

Commercial success demanded blending science and marketing; a steelmaker had to recognize not just the value of a new alloy, but its potential use. Benno Strauss, of the Krupp Works, later spoke about recognizing the potential of his stainless steel in plumbing, cutlery, medical equipment, and mirrors. He, like Brearley—who realized his stainless steel would be useful in spindles, pistons, plungers, and valves—was focused. Other steelmakers followed suit. Where the first alloys were named after the discoverer—Hadfield’s manganese steel, R. Mushet’s Special Steel, Firth’s Aeroplane Steel (FAS)—later discoveries were marketed with an ear toward popular usage: Rezistal, Neva-Stain, Staybrite, Nonesuch, Enduro, Nirosta, Rusnorstain. In the naming of his alloy, Brearley owes a great debt to Stuart. He made FAS sound better than D.G.S. He made it sound like a miracle, and it worked.

A month after Brearley resigned, news of his stainless steel reached America. On Jan. 31, 1915, The New York Times announced the discovery:

A NON-RUSTING STEEL; SHEFFIELD INVENTION ESPECIALLY GOOD FOR TABLE CUTLERY.

According to Consul John M. Savage, who is stationed at Sheffield, England, a firm in that city has introduced a stainless steel, which is claimed to be non-rusting, unstainable, and untarnishable. This steel is said to be especially adaptable for table cutlery, as the original polish is maintained after use, even when brought in contact with the most acid foods, and it requires only ordinary washing to cleanse.

Here’s another reason why Brearley is credited as the discoverer of stainless steel: Reporters at The New York Times weren’t reading the metallurgical trade magazines. They didn’t know about Monnartz and Strauss. The first American ingot of Brearley’s stainless steel was cast 31 days later and sent directly to a knife maker.

Years later, a paragraph from Brearley’s memoir would describe his outlook this way:

The range of the mind’s eye is restricted by the skill of the hand. The castles in the air must conform to the possibilities of material things—border-line possibilities perhaps; or, if something beyond the known border is required, the plan must wait until other dreams come true.


A former Ted Scripps Fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado, Jonathan Waldman grew up in Washington, D.C., studied environmental science and writing at Dartmouth, and earned a master’s degree from Boston University’s Knight Center for Science Journalism in 2003. He has spent the last decade writing creatively about science, culture, and politics for Outside, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, and others. Rust is his first book. He lives in Colorado.


From Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman. Copyright © 2016 by Jonathan Waldman. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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